A Remembrance of Things Past

In “Swann’s Way,” the first of the seven books that made up Marcel Proust’s famous À la recherche du temps perdu (Remembrance of Things Past), it happened this way:

The narrator, upon a taste of a madeleine dipped in tea, is suddenly flooded with a long-forgotten memory from his childhood.

Wandering North Hollywood

Here’s how it happened to me:

I had to get the car serviced, so had a couple hours to kill in North Hollywood. On the particular stretch of Lankershim Boulevard where the dealership is located, there ain’t much to see. So I set out to wandering. I had gone in and out of the 99 Cent Store, walked under the U.S. 101 overpass, glanced at the menu of an old school French restaurant housed in a small faux chateaux, and was wishing the couple of legit dive bars in the neighborhood opened a little earlier, when I spotted it: H. Salt Fish & Chips.

H. Salt was an infrequent but cherished part of my childhood. There was one down the street, next to the 7-11. It had illuminated maps of London on the walls, and smelled of things fried long and hard. It was part of an American milieu of deep-crusted fried things that also included the equally lost-and-forgotten Pioneer Chicken, which featured indistinguishable chicken parts encased in a nearly fiberglass orange shell.

Inside the H. Salt

Upon retrieving my freshly serviced car, I returned to the H. Salt, parked and went it. It was just like I remembered — the illuminated London maps, the glass drip case spotlighting items recently retrieved from the oil, even the Chinese people running the joint. The stale grease smell alone was enough to transport me instantly to some amber moment of my youth: 8th grade, perhaps — the same age as my son! — skateboarding home from school, stopping at the 7-11 for a few games of Asteroids, then counting up my money to see if I had enough for a 2-piece fish & chips, a 1-piece, or just a couple fried scallops.

I’m a relatively affluent middle-aged man now, I could afford the 3-piece. But that seemed like a lot of oil to be ingesting in one sitting. I opted for two and got them to go. Back in the car, I slathered the golden fillets in malt vinegar and a good solid shake of salt. It tasted exactly like I remembered — not the best fish and chips in the world, but tasty still and comforting like the smell of cookies baking or an old song whose words you still remember.

I was glad to have found the H. Salt. I won’t go back — it’s too far from my home, and probably not great for my blood pressure. But I did feel like it gave me a certain closure, like running into an old girlfriend who you never really said a proper goodbye to. H. Salts can’t be long for this world. I didn’t realize way back when that one time I went to that H. Salt next to 7-11 that it would likely be the last. (There is a bank now where the 7-11 and H. Salt stood.) This time, I could say goodbye.

Now I just need to find a Pioneer Chicken.

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Eating Oaxaca

Oaxaca, they say, is the culinary capital of Mexico. I was eager to put this to the test.

I am still digesting Mexico City tacos when we arrive and check into our hotel. But my pal Mike rouses me from a brief respite on my bed that could’ve easily turned into an evening in, and we are soon walking the beautiful historic streets of the old center of Oaxaca city. More

24 Hours in Mexico City

I am in Mexico City, suddenly, at the invitation of my pal Michael, partner in Del Maguey single village mezcal, who has come on business. My business, as a chef, food blogger and brand consultant, is to learn all I can about his business — and as a Del Maguey advocate, to experience a golden-ticket immersion in artisanal mezcal production. We are on our way to Oaxaca to experience mezcal at its source. But first, there is the business of Mexico City.

Popocatepétl from the airplane window

Del Maguey recently commenced a partnership with the world’s second-largest spirits company, the French firm Pernod-Ricard, Mike is here to meet the Mexico City team, discuss efficiencies and processes. In other words, he’s taking a lot of meetings. I, on the other hand, am taking a lot of walks. More

An Ode to the Roadside Diner

One thing must be assumed when stopping into a roadside diner for a meal. It’s usually about one of two things — the uniquely American experience, or the convenience. With rare exception, you are not likely in for great dining.

So it was on a Sunday early afternoon on one of America’s most beautiful highways — U.S. 395, which winds from the high Joshua Tree-dotted Mojave desert along the eastern Sierras, past the tallest mountain in the contiguous 48, miscellaneous charming frontier towns, dazzling Mono Lake, the stunning ghost town of Bodie, to Nevada and the eastern flank of Lake Tahoe and on to Oregon. We had just emerged from a long 20-mph southbound slog through blizzard-like whiteout conditions, descending toward home from a ski vacation in Mammoth, and were starved. More

The Best Restaurant in Havana

Javier, one of the staff at the Airbnb where we are staying, was walking us through the dusty streets of Central Havana when he paused to point out a crowd of well-dressed people milling in front of a rather grand Baroque portal. A sign above the entrance read: “La Guardia.”

“That’s the best restaurant in Havana,” he struggled in his limited English. “Robert de Niro and Natalie Portman eated there.”

Javier was leading us to another restaurant just around the corner from La Guardia. We had asked him about good, authentic Cuban food, and he assured us that the deceptively named Notre Dame des Bijoux was the place to get it.

Jesus Gomez at his rooftop grill

We walked through a much less impressive portal into what seemed to be someone’s home (many of Cuba’s restaurants are run by people out of their homes). And quite a home it was — an explosion of tropical plants grew up from the floor, one wall was plastered with teacups, another was covered floor to ceiling with framed photographs. And in a throne-like chair, in a satin fuchsia robe with rings on every finger, surrounded by his ten toy dogs, was Tommy Reyes Martinez, a flamboyant former Cuban National Ballet dancer who owned the restaurant. More

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